Sickle-Cell Disease

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Sickle-cell disease can cause severe pain, anemia and organ damage. An inherited disease, sickle-cell symptoms show up when you're a baby.

What are the Symptoms of Sickle-Cell Disease?

Symptoms of sickle cell disease include:

  • Fever
  • Swollen hands and feet

You might also have pain in your:

  • Chest
  • Abdomen
  • Arms
  • Legs
  • Joints
  • Bones

Sickle cell can cause enlarged organs, like your heart, liver or spleen. It also results in:

  • Increased risk of infection, especially pneumonia
  • Symptoms of anemia, like:
    • Severe fatigue
    • Headache
    • Lightheadedness
    • Shortness of breath
    • Heart failure
    • Yellowish tone to the whites of the eyes and the skin
  • Episodes of sickle-cell crisis that include:
    • Severe chest pain
    • Shortness of breath
    • Severe abdominal pain
    • Severe bone pain
    • Nausea
    • Fever
    • In males, painful, prolonged erections of the penis which may result in impotence
sickled red blood cell
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Other medical conditions that can result from sickle cell disease include:

  • Leg sores
  • Gum disease
  • Damage to the retina of the eye, resulting in vision loss
  • Enlargement of the heart due to chronic anemia
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney infections
  • Kidney damage and eventual failure
  • Bone infections or infarctions
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Spleen damage and destruction, resulting in an increased risk of certain infections
  • Stroke
  • Abnormal bone growth
  • Aplastic crisis or red cell aplasia

Triggers that cause symptoms to get worse include:

  • Smoking
  • Exercise
  • Travel to high altitudes
  • Drops in oxygen or changes in air pressure that can occur during airplane travel
  • Fever
  • Infection
  • Dehydration

Treating Sickle-Cell Disease at UVA

No treatments exist to cure sickle-cell disease. We try to manage your symptoms and avoid complications. This means taking steps to prevent or manage:

  • Acute crisis episodes
  • Chronic pain
  • Anemia
  • Infections
  • Organ damage

Therapies that can help with the worst symptoms include:

  • Oxygen
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Blood transfusion
  • Immunizations
  • Ultrasound
  • Bone marrow transplant
  • Medications
  • Surgery
  • Lifestyle changes


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.